On Friday, citizens on the highway near Gomel in Belarus might have noticed a long, long line of tanks, trucks, APVs, and other equipment headed into the city. This particular mass of muddy, battered hardware represents the surviving Russian forces escaping from Kyiv and Chernihiv. But for the Belarusians, they’d be easy to overlook. That’s because the highways in Belarus have been full of military vehicles for weeks. Those vehicles have driven east. Those vehicles have driven west. Those vehicles have driven every direction except south into Ukraine.
Despite dozens of warning that Belarusian forces were just about to enter the war, now, or maybe now, or certainly now, those forces have just kept driving back and forth. Despite dictator Alexander Lukashenko frequently shaking a threatening fist—and making what had to be a humiliating trip to be yelled at in Moscow—Belarusian forces have remained resolutely in Belarus. Lukashenko hasn’t tried to stop Vladimir Putin from using his country as a parking lot for Russian tanks or helicopters or even artillery, but he has mastered the art of saying “yes” while doing nothing.
Which is rather extraordinary, considering that Belarus is a member of what’s sometimes called “Russia’s NATO,” the Collective Security Treaty Organization. There are six members of CSTO: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia. There used to be three more—Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan—but they all dropped out; possibly because they weren’t fond of how one of their fellow members kept stoking unrest in their countries.
CSTO is currently made up only of former Soviet states, though they’ve tried to recruit other nations, such as Iran, for more than a decade. There is a CSTO rapid response force that is supposed to assist members having trouble with invasion, terrorists, or international criminals. There are also CSTO military bases in all member nations.
But despite appeals from Russia, Armenia has not sent troops to fight in Ukraine. Belarus has not sent troops to fight in Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan has not sent troops to fight in Ukraine. Tajikistan has not sent troops to fight in Ukraine. And when it comes to Kazakhstan, Friday produced a genuinely shocking statement from their government.
In addition, Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister has invited companies to move production from Russia to Kazakhstan, saying that, “Kazakhstan does not want to be behind a new iron curtain.” This is an ally that recognized Russia is imploding, and doesn’t want to be inside that collapse.
What makes this especially troubling for Russia, is that Kazakhstan isn’t just a member of CSTO, it’s also a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, also known as the “Shanghai Five.” There are few, if any, other nations with as many explicit, formal ties to Russia.
That no other member of its alliances is sending troops is one thing. But for Kazakhstan to explicitly disown not just Russia’s new invasion, but it’s earlier claims to Crimea and Donbas, is … extraordinary. This is Russia’s tightest ally reading the way the wind is blowing, and hurrying to be on the other side of history.